Question from English4Today member, Irene in Canada:

Using the services of my company ENSURES the task is completed correctly, on time & on budget!
2) Using the services of my company INSURES the task is completed correctly, on time & on budget!

Also please explain how I can make this determination on my own in the future.

Hi Irene and thanks for your question as this seems to be a set of those easily confused words that we have not included in our list on the English4Today Grammar Pages.

We’ll make sure it is there soon though as assure, insure, ensure are, as you’ve pointed out, a group of words that we often confuse.

To assure something is to make certain that it will happen or has happened or to promise that something will be done as said:

  • I assure you that I will be on time for work tomorrow.
  • Economic prosperity is assured by the Presidential candidate if he is elected.
  • The Presidential candidate assured his listeners that there would be no more poverty once she was elected
  • They assured me that there was no danger swimming with the crocodiles.
  • She assured me that she loved me even though she had forgotten my name.

To ensure something is to take steps to make sure that something happens:

  • He ensured his own defeat in the election by failing to argue convincingly on any topic.
  • Including air bags in cars ensures that you are protected when your car crashes.
  • The captain ensured the safety of all of his passengers by double-checking the aircraft before takeoff.

To insure something is to take precautions against something undesirable happening and, of course, is best remembered when you think of an ‘insurance policy‘:

  • You can insure yourself against losing your home by taking out a home insurance policy.
  • The hostages were held by the terrorists as insurance against government attacks.

Now for the complications!

Ensure and insure are often used interchangeably to mean ‘to make sure of something‘. Practically, this means that as long as the meaning is ‘making sure of something‘ you can get away with using either one. Which means, of course, that both of your sentences would be correct. However, there are people who will insist upon using only ensure in this sense, using insure for talking about legal and financial protection and if you decided to follow this (rather small!) group then only your first sentence would be correct.

Insure is always used when referring to matters of legal and financial protection (e.g., insurance) :

  • Insuring your car against theft is important if you live in a big city.
  • I have insured myself against accidental death so that my children have some money if I die.

In terms of remembering all of this, Irene, I don’t know of any handy memory trick or mnemonic for this group but what I will do is put together an exercise for you over the next few days and post it to the members’ web with the link to it here so that you can do that a few times to reinforce your understanding of the words.

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